Farmer Focus: Pig breeding rollercoaster never stops

I’ve always thought of optimism as a good trait to have. I guess it’s the most basic form of self-defence against life’s less welcome challenges.

The eight farm staff I manage across our two breeding units are accustomed to me asking, rather predictably, and with optimism: “How’s it going then?”

Often the response I get is quite short – but usually polite. However quickly given, the reply is a valuable opportunity for me to gain some insight into the mood and achievements of the team that day.

See also: Why strategic recovery is needed for pig industry survival

About the author

Rob McGregor
Livestock Farmer Focus writer LSB Pigs runs 1,550 sows in two outdoor herds to produce weaners under a contract agreement. Rob manages the operation which fits into a barley and sugar beet rotation on rented land near Fakenham, Norfolk.
Read more articles by Rob McGregor

Occasionally, the reply I receive is not one of positivity or good spirits. Just last week the farrowing teams came in for lunch and said the number born alive on the new Landrace gilts was a disaster.

Several had farrowed overnight and the litter sizes were as small as twos and threes, with the odd mum just managing double figures.

These Landraces are what we refer to as GPs (grandparents). Their purpose in the herd is to provide commercial home-bred gilts for our sow replacement programme.

We have about 200 pure-bred Landrace GP gilts delivered to us every 30 months. Typically, we keep them until parity six.

After that they are replaced with a new intake of GP gilts with a span of ages so we can incorporate them to produce a steady output of females.

What appears awry is the Landrace GPs have arrived on our farm from a breeding company growing unit and been exposed to new bugs on the farm upon arrival.

Because the gilts arrive together but are grouped according to age, some respond differently to others and the younger pigs have a much longer recovery period on our farm before they are mated.

Based on this practical assumption, I hope the groups that are younger at arrival will have recovered better from the initial health challenge and will perform more impressively at first farrowing.

And the eternal optimist inside me thinks that second time around we will be back to seeing litters of 14 popping out everywhere.

The final figure for the group that caused us concern was 10.1 born alive. That’s two piglets a litter below what I would usually see from gilts, but it’s not quite the disaster first feared.